The Name That May Not Be Spoken: Paula Deen,The “N” Word, And The ’60s South

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

deenI never much liked Paula Deen’s cooking. Filled with butter and gravies and things like Krispy Creme Donuts for hamburger buns, Paula seemed too culinarily eccentric … to foodie excessive … too health oblivious even for a southern cook in 1813 much less 2013. Her story though, like her southern twang, had a certain charm to it: single mother of two left penniless makes ends meet by selling food-to-go out of her home kitchen and works her butt off until she reached the top of the sundae’s cherry with three shows on the Food Network and some spin off shows for her two sons.

That all ended Friday as a deposition of Ms. Deen was released. In that dep (in a case Lisa T. Jackson v. Paula Deen et al. involving a claim of racial and sexual discrimination by an employee of her restaurant, Uncle Bubba’s), Ms. Deen admitted to using the no-no of racial epithets in the past — the distant past, like 50 years ago.  Here’s an excerpt from the transcript of Paula’s deposition to see just what I mean:

Q
Okay. Have you ever used the N word yourself?
A
Yes, of course.
Q
Okay. In what context?
A
Well, it was probably when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.
Q
Okay. And what did you say?
A
Well, I don’t remember, but the gun was dancing all around my temple.
Q
Okay.
A
I didn’t — I didn’t feel real favorable towards him.
Q
Okay. Well, did you use the N word to him as he pointed a gun in your head at your face?
A
Absolutely not.
Q
Well, then, when did you use it?
A
Probably in telling my husband.
Q
Okay. Have you used it since then?
A
I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.
Q
Can you remember the context in which you have used the N word?
A
No.
Q
Has it occurred with sufficient frequency that you cannot recall all of the various context in which you’ve used it?
A
No, no.
Q
Well, then tell me the other context in which you’ve used the N word?
A
I don’t know, maybe in repeating something that was said to me.
Q
Like a joke?
A
No, probably a conversation between blacks. I don’t — I don’t know.
Q
Okay.
A
But that’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the ’60s in the south. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior.
Q
Okay

Realizing perhaps too late, the Deen Food Empire (books, utensils,  cutlery, you name it) sprung into action. First a very public apology for sins past, then a new revised one on YouTube, the town square of our age, where Paula looking quite shaken literally begs for forgiveness.  PC gods served? You tell me:

On cable TV shows up and down the msnbc roster, Deen was decried as racist, uncaring, and calls for her banishment from polite society became overwhelming. So much so that the Food Network pulled the shows and consigned Deen to places we reserve for the likes of George Wallace and Sheriff Bull Connor.  But is that fair?

Deen grew up in place far away –temporally and culturally — from most of her critics and, as one who grew up in the same locales, I can tell you that her sin was a popular one in the South in the 60’s . Everybody who wasn’t white and rich had a name: wops, pollaks, heebs, rednecks, pope lovers, crackers, and yes those christened with the “N” word. And each group used the words liberally to each other and even among each other. I never saw a fight over the name calling but there were some close calls.

Surely it wasn’t a very hospitable place for African-Americans who bore the brunt of discrimination, but neither was it a hospitable place if you were poor, or Catholic, or ethnic, or anything other than wealthy, white and Protestant. That didn’t mean people weren’t civil to one another. By and large they were, but there was a palpable feeling of place and hierarchy that was enforced with a rigid caste system administered by state and local governments. That sat pretty well with the white elite who ran things back then.

But you should know those in power  considered folks like Paula Deen no better that the “n*iggers” they brought in to do their cooking and cleaning and to raise their kids. Those “people”  were there and free only by fiat of  the government in Wershington and, by god, if that was the case they were going to be useful, or so it was thought.

The South changed and evolved in the ’60s and ’70s with  the Civil Rights Movement as Dr. King’s words touched hearts both white and black and brightened them all. For those who wouldn’t listen, scenes of pregnant women blasted with water cannons and vicious police dogs attacking kids was surely enough. White people who drove pickups and worked in plants and farms started to realize that the folks who lived across the railroad tracks and who drove older pickup trucks and worked in plants and farms weren’t really much different from themselves and they had the same lack of control over their lives. The wedges of words that the ruling élite had no interest in curtailing melted away and it is clearly true that the advent of political correctness  shown a glaring light on those southern dinosaurs who couldn’t or wouldn’t change.

Which brings us back to Paula Deen. Paula likely grew up in one of those same southern small towns  like I did. She also likely made a distinction between “black people” (as they were called then ), who worked hard and raised their families as best they could under grinding poverty, and “n*ggers” who were seen as lazy, irresponsible, thuggish and no account. She likely came to learn that names reflect stereotypes and they can be and are often wrong; that people don’t fit nicely into boxes; and that, as Edmund Burke so wisely reminds us, you can’t draw up an indictment against a whole people.

Paula evolved and the South evolved. But the question remains for Paula and those like her: When is the sentence for violating political correctness over? When can you freely admit a mistake made decades ago without fear of reprisal? Not the criminal kind administered by the state, but the reprisal from the overlords of decorum who sit in ivory towers or corporate boardrooms and wax philosophic on all manner of society’s ills and largely for their own benefit ? When will a society committed to free expression allow itself to deal honestly with its past and say publicly a two-syllable word that most find offensive?

In my view, you don’t need a word that no one can utter. You don’t need to continually explain and apologize for sins made years ago in a culture far, far away if you’ve done it once and sincerely. And perhaps most importantly, you don’t need to feel society’s wrath for simply telling the truth about that society.

Paula Deen is no hero, but she is certainly no villain for growing up as she did and living as she did. When we master that fact perhaps we can overcome the racism that divides us even as we accept that our differences spring largely from things over which we have little control, and that we can come together in spite of ourselves if we forgive as freely and as often as we decry.

Source: Huffington Post

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

1,064 thoughts on “The Name That May Not Be Spoken: Paula Deen,The “N” Word, And The ’60s South

  1. Elaine M.
    1, August 14, 2013 at 8:35 am
    Blouise,

    It’s all about context, isn’t it?

    ====================================

    Yes. And it is the context they want us to ignore. White-washing. 😉

  2. “Regardless of who is or is not racist, it would be fascinating to me to hear someone explain the steps in reasoning that lead from ‘don’t want to shake hands or touch you in any way’ to ‘now, please take care of my child’, or ‘please feed my child’, or even ‘please, nurse my child’.” (bigfatmike)

    Oh he!!, that’s easy … it’s called laziness.

  3. Blouise, White Washing was on yesterday. Someone referred to him as “R”.😉 I think it is laziness and the availability of cheap labor because of discrimination. It stems from slavery.

  4. Blouise
    1, August 15, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    “Regardless of who is or is not racist, it would be fascinating to me to hear someone explain the steps in reasoning that lead from ‘don’t want to shake hands or touch you in any way’ to ‘now, please take care of my child’, or ‘please feed my child’, or even ‘please, nurse my child’.” (bigfatmike)

    Oh he!!, that’s easy … it’s called laziness.

    *****

    And those types of things–nursing the baby, changing dirty diapers, cooking for and feeding the children–are beneath them. They were privileged by dint of being born with white skin.

  5. Think you both have it, laziness and privilege. And under a certain age you just don’t catch those ‘cooties’ from your African American caretaker(s)

  6. To be clear, I don’t care what people think of Deen so long as they consider that prejudice is a larger problem than simply racism (although both are indeed problems).

    • The claim by Bloomberg and supporter of ‘stop and frisk’ is that the policy has had a strong effect to decrease murders and other violent crime. They claim that without ‘stop and frisk’ there would have been many more murders and other violent crimes.

      The statistics just do not support that conclusion. Crime statistics in NYC have clearly moved with the trend of crime statistics in major metro areas, and with the national trend. NYC’s crime rates began to rise in the early 1980’s or perhaps earlier. NYC’s crime rates reached a peak in the early 1990’s just like the crime rates in other major metro areas and in the US overall. And NYC crime rates began a dramatic decline that extends to this day, just like major metro areas and the US overall.

      Murders in NYC reached a peak in 1990 at 2245. The bulk of the decline from the peak in 1990 occurred prior to 2000 when there was no ‘stop and frisk’. By 2000 the number of murders in NYC had declined to 673. In 2002 when ‘stop and frisk’ was initiated in NYC the number of murders was 587. From 2002 through 2010 the number of murders bounced around, some years rising, some years falling. After 8 hard years, with over 600,000 ‘stop and frisk’ incidents in 2010 alone, the number of murders in NYC had declined by 51 to 536 each year.

      If ‘stop and frisk’ had some effect one would think we could see it in the numbers. But NYC is pretty much in the middle of the pack when it comes to percentage declines.

      For example when we compare the numbers of murders in 2010 with the number of murders in 2002 (ie muder(2010) divided murder(2002)) for LA, Chicago, NYC, Philadelphia and Houston we see that number ranges from a low of .44 in LA to a high of 1.06 in Philadelphia. NYC is pretty much in the middle at .91. The ratios mean that LA did very well cutting the number of murders to less than half (.44). Philadelphia did not do so well with an increase of about 5%. (1.05) After a huge decline from 1990 to 2000, NYC barely decreased the number of murders by about 10% (.91).

      This bears repeating. From 1990 to 2000 the murder rate in NYC declined to less than a third (.29). But after 8 years of ‘stop and frisk’ the rate declined about 10%. (.91). The decline under the policy of ‘stop and frisk’ puts NYC just about in the middle of the results obtained by other cities. Some cities that never used ‘stop and frisk’ did better than NYC. Others cities did somewhat worse.

      I have concentrated, here, on the number of murders because Mayor Bloomberg likes to tout the number of murders his program has prevented. Well I just don’t see it. It seems to me that the best explanation for the decline in murders would have to be social factors that have affected every major metro area and the US as a whole – not ‘stop and frisk’.

      Actually I would argue that a better measure of what is happening would be statistics for violent crime. The FBI, NY state and NYC all aggregate the statistics for several types of violent crime in to a summary statistic. But the statistic for violent crime seems to tell very much the same story for NYC, major metro areas and the US as a whole.

      I am not for a minute suggesting that saving 51 lives a year is not a wonderful accomplishment. My claim is that ‘stop and frisk’ has nothing, repeat nothing, to do with saving those lives.

      There were over 600 Thousand ‘Stop and frisk’ incidents in 2010. These stops threaten our constitutional rights, turn 4.5 million African American and Hispanic law abiding citizens into suspects, and abuse nearly 550,000 young minority males.

      It is time for ‘stop and frisk’ to stop. There is no justification.

  7. Ladies,

    And don’t forget what Paula, as a child, did to the her mama’s Help’s daughter. When the Help spanked Paula for abusing the child, poor little Paula ran and told granddaddy and granddaddy had the Help thrown in jail.

    Poor misunderstood Paula … just a helpless pawn of her culture.

  8. BFM: It is a mistake to buy into that paradigm anyway. When we say stop and frisk did nothing, it leaves open the door for stop and frisk if they can prove it did anything.

    China has proven, by doing it, that if you publicly shoot every criminal in the head, even for so much as stealing a bicycle, crime drops to nearly zero. Is that a justification for marching a teen into the village square and shooting him in the head?

    The ends, even if good ends, do not justify the means, which in this case is a violation of rights. Whether it works or not, whether it keeps people safer or not, whether it reduces crime or not, it is a violation of rights. Either we do away with the right by repealing it, or we abide by it. Even if people die.

    • ” it is a violation of rights. ”

      I agree with you completely. I mentioned earlier and should have repeated that others have noted the violation of rights and the racism of ‘stop and frisk.’

      But Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly are making ‘security arguments’ – in effect – ‘stop and frisk’ is what we have to accept if we want to be safe.

      At first I wanted to explore the possibility that there really was a benefit to stop and frisk.

      But I became convinced the data does not support that conclusion. And I believe it is important to let people know that there is no justification to ‘stop and frisk’. Even if you are willing to give up liberty for safety, ‘stop and frisk’ will not help. As a social policy ‘stop and frisk’ is a bankrupt policy.

      The real reason to oppose ‘stop and frisk’ is that it is a racist violation of constitutional protection, as you mentioned. But the choice to oppose ‘stop and frisk’ is an easy one to make because it offers no advantage in safety.

      We can reach that conclusion by looking at the statistic for murder that Mayor Bloomberg touts. We can also reach that conclusion by looking at the summary statistic for violent crime.

      What is happening in NYC mirrors what is happening all over the country and in 10 different major metro areas.

      The first thing is to get rid of ‘stop and frisk’.

      But at some point we ought to figure out why crime rates have been falling for the better part of two decades. I know there have been many suggestions including decline of crack use, economy, aging population (maybe) and some more I forgot or never hear of.

      It seems to me that figuring what accounts for declining crime rates would be a much better way to spend money rather than police overtime to insult and radicalize young minority males.

  9. It appears that the Turley email list may have been compromised. I received this email purporting to be email copy of a comment on the Turley web site: In fact there does not seem to be such a post on the web site despite the fact that I received this by email.

    ” Albert Green Lechester commented
    on The Name That May Not Be Spoken: Paula Deen,The “N” Word, And The ’60s South

    Good day, my name is Mr. Albert Green Lechester and i am British
    citizen currently in London. I have interest in real estate business
    in your country and i need your assistance as a citizen of your
    country. I am planning of investing ten million dollars
    ($10,000,000.00) on real estate business in your country and i seek a
    partner in this business, the income from the business shall be shared
    among the both of us.

    If you are in agreement then get back to me via email:
    albertgreen1982@gmail.com, so we can start the processing of this
    partnership transaction.

    best regards,
    Mr. Albert Green Lechester.”

    All I can say is,

    Dear Albert,

    Hurry up and send that $10,000,000 right away in the form of a cashiers check. I have some really good ideas for real estate investment And you can be assured that I will split all the profits with you, just like we planned.

    If you have any questions or concerns I have many business partners who will be pleased to speak for my good character. But send the check right away.

    Hoping to hear from you soon,

    your friend and business partner,

    bfm

  10. bfm,

    That was a comment that got through the spam filter hence it appearing as it did. I deleted the comment, but apparently not soon enough. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  11. It is good to know there are real people watching out.

    I made my remarks when I thought there was the possibility of a real hack.

    Sorry for any confusion I might have spread.

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